Instead of riding into the sunset, Tualatin resident and "cowboy poet" Tom Swearingen is making the best out of the coronavirus pandemic impacting his work.
When Swearingen had to cancel his full schedule of performances due to the virus, he decided to complete a book project he began more than four years ago. His first book, "Reflection," is 106-page paperback collection of 46 poems, with 32 illustrations by Salem artist Elizabeth Zimmerman.
"I thought, 'I have time now, and there's no excuse to not get this thing done,'" recalled Swearingen. "I sort of made that my job and dove into it. I then finished editing a bunch of poems and trying to figure out which ones were going into it, because I've written 60 or 70 poems."
Swearingen's poetry is often inspired by his own experiences and observations from the saddle. Originally from Canby, the author learned about life on the farm from both sets of grandparents throughout his childhood.
But it wasn't until the passing of a close friend — about a decade ago — that Swearingen was inspired to practice cowboy-style poetry.
"I wrote a few lines to commemorate him," he said, "and I strung some lines together and shared that, and people appreciated it."
With a little push from friends and family, Swearingen started sharing more poems and eventually got a call to book his first gig,
"I love telling stories (and) seeing the audience," he said when asked about why he likes performing on stage.
Swearingen brings his poems to life with rhythm and rhyme and a style that makes him a popular performer at western music and cowboy poetry gatherings throughout the western United States.
Swearingen enjoys, he said, the "interplay between an audience and me, when I can see them smile at the right places (or) if I'm trying to be witty or funny or whatever. It's kind of a thrill that I can generate an emotion like that."
Writing also came naturally to Swearingen. The poet has previous experience writing for advertising companies and producing radio and television commercials. He also received a marketing degree from Palm State University.
As for writing a book, that was a whole different beast for Swearingen to conquer.
"For some poems, I had to really work at to the point I was comfortable," he said. "That's what my grandchildren are going to see 15 years from now. They're going to go, 'How come you put the comma there?' So, it's a pretty painstaking effort, but I had proofreaders look at it just to be sure."
Considering cowboy poetry is an oral tradition, it was also difficult for Swearingen to transition from selling CDs to writing his work on paper.
But once he figured out people would be willing to pay for a book, the answer for Swearingen was easy because "there's somebody with a $20 bill in their hand, (and) I could probably sell them," he said with a chuckle.
Swearingen hopes people can enjoy the book while still hearing his voice through the collection of poems.
"I hope the rhythm of the way I wrote it comes out," said Swearingen. "That's why I was so careful to decide how I wanted to do it on the page. So, when people read these poems, they would be struck with the rhythm. It'll enhance the words on the page."
You can find Swearingen's book, "Reflection," on his website at oregoncowboypoet.com.
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